12/28/12 3:20 PM ET
Matsui will always be considered a Yankee
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
Blame it on the Reggie Jackson thing.
Quick. When you think of Mr. October wearing a baseball uniform, what do you see, and how striking are the pinstripes?
Just so you know, Jackson played 21 seasons in the Major Leagues, and he spent most of that time with the Oakland A's, his team for the first 10 years of his career. In addition, there was his season with the Baltimore Orioles, and he also was with the California (now the Los Angeles) Angels for five seasons, which is interesting.
That was the same amount time Jackson was with the Yankees.
Even so, you say "Reggie" to those ranging from casual to ardent baseball fans, and they see Yankees visions. Three home runs on three pitches at old Yankee Stadium during the 1977 World Series. Nose-to-nose (ahem) chats with Billy Martin. The Boss.
They also see drama -- a bunch of Yankees drama, involving the self-proclaimed straw that stirs the drink.
Jackson is the poster child for the following: Once you do something huge as part of the Yankees, anything you did before the Yankees or after the Yankees becomes nearly irrelevant.
Take Graig Nettles, for instance. He played half of his 22 Major League seasons for the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos.
Folks only remember Nettles' half with the Yankees.
David Wells was around for 21 Major League seasons, but he primarily was known for his four years in the Bronx, where his hero was Babe Ruth. The left-handed pitcher even wore an authentic cap of Babe Ruth's during parts of a Yankees home game. He also threw a perfect game for the Yankees, but to the chagrin of management, he wrote in his autobiography that he did so with a hangover.
What about Roger Clemens?
Was he more of a Red Sox guy or a Yankee?
It's a close call.
Yes, Clemens managed the first three of his seven Cy Young Awards with the Red Sox, and he captured a couple with the Toronto Blue Jays. But he did grab one with the Yankees, and he won his 300th game and recorded his 4,000th career strikeout in pinstripes.
Bigger than that, Clemens' Yankees made three trips to the World Series, and they won two of them.
Then there is Alex Rodriguez, with all of his great moments with the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers. He'll be remembered the most for his great and not-so-great moments with a Yankees franchise that has featured just nine of his 19 years in the Major Leagues.
Which brings us to Matsui, who announced this week that he is retiring at 38 after 20 years in pro baseball as a prolific slugger.
Matusui was such a star for a decade with the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese Central League that he was known as Godzilla. He won three of the league's Most Valuable Player awards. He made nine straight trips to the All-Star Game, and he won three home run titles and three RBI titles. He also led the Giants into that league's equivalent to the World Series four times, and he helped them win three of them.
Little of that matters when it comes to Matsui's baseball legacy. All you need to know is that he spent October 2009 becoming as grand as Lou Gehrig and Ruth. He joined that duo back then as the only players to hit over .500 with three homers during the World Series.
It made Matsui the MVP of that Fall Classic, and it secured his image as more of a Yankee than anything else.
That's right. Even though Matsui was efficient overall during his seven seasons with the Yankees (.292 batting average, 140 homers), it only took a single moment -- that 2009 World Series -- to evolve into an unofficial lifetime Yankee.
See Aaron Boone.
He was with the Yankees one year. He spent his other 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with other teams.
Still, after Boone ripped his walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, he became just a Yankee.
In other words, CC Sabathia shouldn't even think about wearing a Cleveland Indians cap if he reaches Cooperstown.
While Boone and others had their Yankees "moment," Sabathia is among those with Yankees "moments."
First, let's return to Sabathia's pre-Bronx days, when he was splendid enough during his first eight seasons in the Major Leagues with the Indians to reach three All-Star Games and to win an AL Cy Young Award. He also helped the Brewers make their first playoff trip in 26 years after he pitched brilliantly after he was traded from Cleveland to Milwaukee in the middle of the 2008 season.
Then came the Yankees. During Sabathia's first year with the team in 2009, he did much along the Yankees' journey to a world championship by winning ALCS MVP honors. Plus, he has led the Major Leagues in victories during two of his four seasons with the Yankees.
Anything else of significance that happens for Sabathia with the Yankees will be overkill.
He's already a Yankee forever.
Just like others.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.